Whistleblower accuses Minnesota nursing home of violating COVID-19 health regulations



Saint Therese of New Hope, the site of one of the state’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks last year, ordered her staff to violate health regulations designed to prevent the outbreak from spreading in long-term care facilities, according to a lawsuit whistleblower.

The lawsuit, brought last week by a former Sainte-Thérèse campus administrator, alleges senior officials at the 258-bed retirement home told employees to “ignore and violate” state and federal guidelines governing visits and quarantine of newly admitted patients, even after more than 60 people who lived in the facility died from the coronavirus.

Former administrator Brooke Peoples, 39, of Minnetonka, said she was fired less than a month after warning her superiors the nursing home was putting patients and staff at risk, according to the lawsuit.

“We all have elderly loved ones, and none of us should have to worry about senior care facilities following health guidelines to protect those loved ones,” said Lori Peterson, a Minneapolis attorney representing Peoples. “No one should be fired for standing up to protect residents and staff from serious illness.”

In a court-filed response to the lawsuit, St. Therese denied allegations that she violated health guidelines, while admitting that Peoples was fired from her job on April 15, 2021. Residence administrators for Seniors, which is run by a nonprofit, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing privacy concerns.

The allegations come nearly a year and a half after heartbreaking outbreaks of COVID-19 began to spread to nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Minnesota and the country, prompting them to impose strict closures that have barred residents from seeing their loved ones for much of 2020 Since the start of the pandemic, 4,597 residents of long-term care communities have died from COVID-19 – accounting for 58% of all deaths from virus in Minnesota, according to state records. Amid a wave of infections last fall, some facilities became so overwhelmed that they contacted the Minnesota National Guard for emergency personnel assistance.

Large nursing homes like Sainte-Th̩r̬se were particularly vulnerable to the rapid spread of the airborne virus. Many patients have weakened immune systems and live in close proximity; in some cases, patients live in pairs per room, with shared bathrooms and only a curtain separates them. Nearly 50 residents of Sainte-Th̩r̬se died from COVID-19 in May of last year. As of last week, the nursing home recorded 313 infections and 84 resident deaths from the virus Рthe second deadliest toll among long-term care facilities in the state, according to a Department of Health database. State health.

Founded in 1968 and affiliated with the Catholic Church, Sainte-Thérèse has a history of health and safety issues. In a 2018 inspection, the retirement home was cited 11 times for various violations of health and quality of life standards. These included failure to properly empty and remove the urine drainage bags; failure to investigate bruises and relieve pressure sores; and the lack of routine personal care for residents.

In a February 2020 health inspection, Sainte-Th̩r̬se was cited for 10 other violations Рincluding failure to follow protocols for washing hands, using gloves and other hygiene protocols, which could potentially affect more than 50 residents, staff and visitors, the inspection mentioned.

The house was also cited for failing to ensure that necessary health information was sent to a hospital where a patient was transferred after falling and hitting her head. The nursing home has maintained a strong infection control record since last fall, with no violations found in two of its last three inspections, records show.

Despite its regulatory shortcomings, Sainte-Thérèse has the highest overall rating (five stars) in the federal government‘s nursing home comparison system, which takes into account inspections, staffing levels and quality of resident care. .

In his lawsuit, Peoples alleges that the leaders of Sainte-Thérèse took a “lax approach to the lethal potential of the pandemic” and ordered him and other staff to ignore the guidelines for monitoring the pandemic. infections from the state Department of Health as well as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These violations included allowing a relative of one of St. Therese’s directors to be admitted to the nursing home from a hospital without following federal quarantine guidelines – potentially exposing residents and staff to the disease. infection, said Peterson, his lawyer. Peoples also alleges that a lack of communication between Sainte-Thérèse executives has delayed the deployment of new infection control measures.

“A toxic and hostile work environment … caused an interruption in communications and teamwork when it was most needed: during a pandemic,” the trial said.

Weeks after reporting her concerns, Peoples was fired by Sainte-Thérèse’s chief executive – then falsely said her firing was due to a loss of confidence in her leadership abilities, the lawsuit says. Peoples said his firing violates Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act, which prohibits employers from retaliating against staff who report violations of the law.

Peoples said the reasons given for her dismissal are contradicted by a series of glowing reviews of her job performance she has received since starting working at the retirement home in 2017.

Her lawsuit contains excerpts from the reviews, in which Peoples has been repeatedly praised for their diligence and for maintaining strong employee retention. On February 1, just two and a half months before her dismissal, Peoples was promoted to general manager and campus administrator and received a bonus as well as an annual raise, according to the lawsuit.

Peoples, who declined to comment on this article, are asking a judge to order Sainte-Thérèse to reimburse her for lost wages and other losses related to her dismissal.



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